Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Sharepoint: new technology; same issues?

The TFPL workshop on Microsoft Office Sharepoint 2007 (MOSS) I attended yesterday provided some interesting food for thought at a time when MOSS is increasingly being mentioned as ‘the next big thing’ in records and information management.

I thought I would share a few of the observations which occurred to me at various times throughout the day. Some – or indeed all – may just display my own ignorance of MOSS and its capabilities. If so, I’d appreciate any enlightenment from those who may have more knowledge than I.

Firstly, there seemed a sense of déjà vu about some of the proceedings. Many of the claims now being made of MOSS (a single point of access and management control for all corporate information, integration of structured and unstructured data, reduction of duplication, breaking down of silos etc) seem very similar to the claims which were being made about EDRM systems 6 or 7 years ago - but which rarely seem to have been achieved in practice. Many of the case studies made the point that, though linking to line of business applications and other systems is possible with MOSS, few had actually gone down this route due to the technical complexities and resulting costs (sound familiar?). This begs the question of whether, despite its theoretical potential, will the reality of implementing MOSS, as with EDRMS, actually fall far short of this mark for most organisations, leaving it as a partial solution for unstructured data only?

Secondly, none of the presenters really broached the topic of how MOSS handles external content. Does it allow the user to integrate information they have found useful or have used which it held on external websites or within external services (such as YouTube or Flickr) with the other internal information that it relates to – for example as part of their Mysite or a Teamsite, and if so, how is this achieved?

Thirdly, and on a related theme: there was little real mention of Web2.0 throughout the day and where it was mentioned it was mainly in the context of barring its use or turning it off. Some did mention that they provide their users with their own MOSS-provided, approved versions of blogs and wikis. Though this might seem a sensible compromise I have long had doubts about the sustainability of this approach. Not only will we always struggle to keep pace with the functionality and user experience offered by external providers but also, it seems to me, it risks cutting the technology adrift from most of the underlying movements which make it attractive in the first place (taking advantage of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, ubiquity of access and reuse, the ability for a user to record the ‘totality of their life, free from the rapidly disappearing borders between their work, domestic and professional lives). All themes explored in further detail in my book…

Fourthly, many people still seem to be tying themselves in knots trying to square the circle of which pieces of information represents records and which do not and, as a consequence, some organisations see MOSS as an acceptable vehicle for managing their corporate records (such as DEFRA) where as others do not (such as KPMG). This again touches on issues discussed in my book where I argue that as even the most basic and unofficial piece of information has the power to hurt or help an organisation just as much as the most formal of records –why worry about the distinction?

Lastly, to something that was conspicuous by its absence from any of the presentations – email. There was some talk about the collaborative elements of MOSS reducing reliance on email, but nothing to quantify this – nor to explain how those emails which inevitable must remain are managed within a MOSS environment. I’ve no doubt it is possible, it would just be good to hear how.

So plenty of food for thought and more questions than answers, but, then again, isn’t that always the way??


Anonymous said...

One of the main problems with Sharepoint is its reliance on Microsoft-only client technologies. Its sole out-of-the-box integration is with Office, with which it is tightly bound (hence "MOSS"). With the approval now of OOXML as an ISO standard, the authoring tool, be it Microsoft Word or OpenOffice (or any other) should now be an irrelevancy. Roll forward another few years and users may well have a different word processor at home as in the office, hosted on-line or on their mobile device(s), but still be able to author the same documents across all of these environments. Contrary to this, Microsoft's MOSS strategy provides a single stack straightjacket - which is great for Microsoft - but may not stand the test of time for organisations and users alike.

Steve Bailey said...

Thanks for this.

I think the point you make echoes some of the concerns that I picked up from what I heard - namely the apparent difficulty and cost involved in getting MOSS to integrate with other (non-MS) applications; and the lack of any constructive approaches to integrating MOSS with Web2.0 applications (by which I also meant hosted 'Office2.0' apps, such as the online WP packages you mention).

Your comments would seem to further suggest that these may well be valid concerns...

Dean said...

Steve, your observations chime with mine. While working at the recently acquired TOWER Software, I helped gather requirements for our SharePoint/TRIM Context integration. Despite the new school/old school flavor of the two products, they seemed to do roughly same thing in largely similar ways. SharePoint fell right into the same traps that EDRM did, but hasn't yet developed the library of necessary implementation hacks needed to make it work in real-world implementations.

Anonymous said...

If an organisation is using SharePoint as a collaborative tool, adding the records management function is an interesting proposition, as long as it meets functional requirements. It should be more cost effective than an EDRMS and has advantages from the user's perspective - staff are already used to how it looks and what it can do and are more likely to accept the change to records management.

The Defra case study referred to at the SharePoint Summit suggests keeping it really simple, using automatic record capture, so the user only has to identify whether the record is of low, medium or high importance. I do feel rather doubtful about this, especially as the system defaults to low. Steve, in your post of 31 March you seem to agree that in future we will see records retention determined by users.

SharePoint is versatile. It can link to external web content, making it available to other users. The person creating the link needs to consider whether the subject matter is appropriate (a case for issuing internal guidance on linking to Web2.0?) More needs to be done about email, of course.

records management said...

I agree with you that MOSS seems to offer similar solutions to EDRM. Seems strange that it's being presented as the best thing since sliced bread, but maybe there's more than meets the eye.